After reading this story, a friend on Facebook asked: What does the fact that he is the grandson of a former councilman have to do with anything?
Here was my reply:
This question deserves an answer because Bob Howard is someone I know from the service club to which we both belong and he is also one of my Facebook friends. There is a pretty good chance he will read this even if he chooses not to participate in the discussion.
We had a discussion in the newsroom about this decision. It was my decision to report the relationship between Robert E. Howard, the former councilman, and Robert A. Howard. The similarity in their names and the fact that they live a block apart on the same street in a relatively small town, in my opinion, are enough to make readers who don’t already know ask themselves when reading the story: “I wonder if they are related?”
Even when I don’t like it — because the news involves someone I know — a goal of reporting is to not leave your readers asking questions.
Additionally, because Bob Howard is fairly well known, at least some readers would already know that Robert A. Howard is his grandson. My belief is that some of those who know would reach one of two conclusions if we didn’t make the connection in the story:
1. No one at the Journal knew or thought to ask.
2. The staff at the Journal knew and for whatever reason chose not to report it, which would make some of those readers ask: “I wonder what else they know down there and deliberately withhold.”
Both of those are bad conclusions.
In our newsroom discussion, the only real reason anyone brought up for not making this connection in the story is that Bob Howard is a former city councilman. As recently as a month ago, however, he was on the City Council. In 2008, he ran as the Republican nominee for the state Legislature against Rep. Nathan Reichert, a Muscatine Democrat.
And that leads me to another element of this decision — not the main reason behind it, but a reason nonetheless. In reporting over the past year about a legal investigation of Reichert’s father, Karl, and the criminal charges that were filed against him late last year, we have identified Karl Reichert as Nathan’s father for the same reasons outlined here.
Some readers have criticized this decision, saying it was motivated by my political beliefs among other things. In my opinion, it is best to treat these stories the same way and let readers draw their own conclusions even though it’s the kind of decision you make knowing that some readers won’t like it.